As we get ready to mark the start of a hopefully better year, we’re taking the time to rewind a little. From an indie rock classic to a Singaporean institution, two of our writers personally celebrate the anniversaries of two works close to their heart.
A Love Letter to Plans
(I think about this scene in The O.C. a lot...)
Can you even really call yourself emo if you’ve never even died in a cab? Strap in friends, it’s real emo hours now – for I’ve risen from my metaphorical grave to channel Seth Cohen and pen my love and adoration for Death Cab for Cutie. Bear with me – it gets a little bit dark and a little too personal, but it’s something that needs to be said in tribute to this really underrated album.
Like most people, I’ll Follow you Into The Dark was the first ever Death Cab song I’d ever listened to. With it, I quickly became enamoured by DCFC’s sound – and this year marks the 15th anniversary of Death Cab’s melodic and deeply melancholic, indie-pop album, Plans.
Death Cab for Cutie circa 2005. Photo: NBHAP
It’s difficult for me to single out the reasons why this album was so important to me. But it was a discovery I made at the right time - something I needed to experience at a time when growing up was rocky, scary and messy all at the same time. I needed something as raw and vulnerable, something as earnest in its sadness to help me realise it was OK not to be OK (as corny as this sounds).
I admit – I probably romanticised the melancholia and lyrical vulnerability of the album a little too much. Perhaps, it was the sad 2011 Tumblr Indie girl in me that related so strongly with this. But even so, Plans makes up the very essence of my being today. As with most DCFC songs, Gibbard channels his emotions through metaphors; and in Plans, he manifests his relationships in his comparisons to distance and geography.
It’s an exploration that begins with Soul Meets Body – “If the silence takes you then I hope it takes me too,” he sings to a strangely upbeat tune. At the intersection of love and loss, he continues weaving a running narrative of painful desire – I Will Follow You Into the Dark is pretty self-explanatory, while on What Sarah Said, he poses a heart-wrenching and existential question: “love is watching someone die. So who’s gonna watch you die?”
In the same way it’s harsh and raw in its emotional honesty, the album offers comfort through hopeful reassurances. On Someday You Will be Loved is another poignant one, as Gibbard chants with a deep, insistent earnestness: “You may feel alone, when you’re falling asleep/But I know your heart belongs to someone you’ve yet to meet.”
At the heart of this album, Gibbard invites us to explore how we deal with loss. This, I think, may be the very “plans” in which the title refers to. This record’s ability to peel back your layers and hit you at the very core of your being with deeply personal lyrics encourages self-reflection.
It’s something I truly appreciate – after all, so rarely can music do this for me. To validate what I’m feeling and preempt me for the painful things I’ve yet to experience in life. I can go on forever about why and how this album means so much to me, but simply put, this album resonates so strongly and on such a deeply personal level because my soul feels and is the way this album sounds: soulful and earnest.
Plans - Death Cab for Cutie
Listen to Plans here:
13 Years On: A Class ‘A’ Love Affair
The early 2000s sure was a weird time for rock music. Post-grunge and nu-metal dominated the airwaves, and every guy was worshipping the great Fred Durst, rocking that red snapback cap and spiking their hair like their nu-metal heroes. But as music fans, you were pretty much questioning rock’s genuineness at that point.
Then came The Strokes and their decade-defining debut Is This It. It was a seismic shift for the sound of popular guitar-based indie music, and soon, it helped pave the way for new alternative rock bands to take centre stage: from Interpol and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to The Killers.
It was an era-defining rebirth, and Meet me in The Bathroom, an oral history by Lizzy Goodman, perfectly and beautifully encapsulates the buzzy New York rock scene at the turn of the millennium. I highly recommend checking it out, if you haven’t already read it.
The Strokes in a photoshoot for NME. Photo: Dean Chalkley
But back in our motherland, Singapore had already seen its fair share of local indie rock acts. In a sense, we had our own CBGB –it all centered around The Substation, an independent arts venue on Armenian Street. Alongside it grew Singapore’s indie music scene – as the 90s came, we saw indie pop from the likes of The Padres, to bands like AWOL and Lion City hardcore legends Stompin’ Ground. All in all, the Substation served as a launching pad for many local bands during the time. But being still a small and niche market, it naturally wasn’t getting much attention as it should.
An invite card for a gig featuring The Padres in the 90s.
Everything changed when post-punk revival’s emerging waves seeped its way into our shores. It gave groups of bored teenagers and delinquents inspiration in realising that they had something to offer to the scene. Alongside the continued success of already established bands, suddenly came a burst of new talent.
One of the many that stood out was The Great Spy Experiment – a band that delivered a perfect blend of indie rock, dance and alternative stylings. In my books, their debut album Flower Show Riots still stands as arguably one of the best records ever produced in Singapore – and their single Class ‘A’ Love Affair 2007 is still one hell of a banger.
Kicking it all off with a build up reminiscent of The Killers’ hit Read My Mind, a triumphant synth opening brings in frontman Saiful Idris’ memorable opening lyrics. “What I’d do just to take you in/You know I’ll take you somewhere deep within,” he sings, as arena-sized drums enter to create an anthemic sonic landscape.
The Great Spy Experiment
As he plays a character of a hopeless romantic, unable to resist his feelings he has for a significant person already in a relationship, Idris’s lyrics paint a tortured picture of love. “Mind my heart, this twisted attraction,” he croons – and as his inability to control his complex emotions traps him in his dealings with love, the narrator finds himself in mental torment.
The instrumental backdrop is equally grand and cinematic. With its atmospheric synths and stadium-like choruses, there’s an anthemic quality to it, rounded off with the crisp and beautifully mixed production. The band brings it to a rousing close with an impetuous outro, a finishing blow that sounds something Interpol would’ve written during their heyday. In fact, they shared another thing with the prestigious New York band – often wearing suits and formal outfits on stage, they also found kin with their dapper sense of fashion.
Being the one of the first Singaporean acts to play at SXSW, they were doing things that local bands in the mid-2000s were unable to do. The Great Spy went on to make a more mellow sophomore effort, Litmus in 2013, adding more bangers to their discography – but sadly, they eventually called it quits in 2015.
Nevertheless, just as what The Strokes did for the New York scene, The Great Spy Experiment deserves just as much credit and their fair share – as they paved the way for local indie bands to take centre stage.
What else can I say about this song? It’s just a local indie classic. Here’s hoping for a reunion!
Flower Show Riots - The Great Spy Experiment